Jenkins: Hay "incentivos económicos" en el uso de tácticas terroristas

SUMMARY: The world will face continued growth in terrorist attacks in the next decade, and large-scale incidents involving hundreds of deaths will become more common, says an expert on international terrorism.
nternational terrorism emerged as a problem in the late 1960s, and, despite increased governmental efforts to combat it, terrorism remains a serious problem in the 1980s. Will terrorism continue? Yes.
Modern theories of guerrilla warfare — which, of course, is not synonymous with terrorism but did contribute doctrinally to the use of terrorist tactics — developed from the late 1940s to the early 1960s. World War II represented the culmination of state-organized violence. Since then, there has been a long-range trend toward the «privatization» of violence.
Terrorism has become a routine way of focusing attention on a dispute, of bringing pressure on a government. New causes and new groups have emerged — Armenian terrorists, Sikh terrorists, issue oriented groups opposed to nuclear power, abortion, technology, pollution, animal vivisection, etc. There certainly will be no lack of causes.
There are economic incentives to the use of terrorist tactics. Kidnapping and extortion based upon threats of violence have become routine means of financing revolutionary movements.
A semipermanent infrastructure of support has emerged. Behind the terrorist groups, and supporting them often without regard to ideology or cause, is an ephemeral but resilient network of connections, alliances, safe houses, arms suppliers, and provisioners of counterfeit documents and other services. This network resembles the infrastructure that supports organized crime.
States have recognized in terrorism a useful weapon and are exploiting it for their own purposes. To a certain extent, international terrorism has become institutionalized.
And, increasingly, terrorism is expected and «tolerated.»
All these reasons suggest that terrorism as we know it now is likely to persist as a mode of political expression for various groups and as a means of warfare among states. It will probably continue, but at what level? Will we see more or less terrorism? Measured by the number of incidents, terrorism has increased in volume over the last 17 years. It is a ragged increase, with peaks and valleys, but the overall trajectory is clearly upward.
Overall, the annual growth rate in the volume of terrorist activity has been approximately 10%-12%. If that rate of increase continues, we could see between 800 and 900 incidents a year by the end of the decade.
There are several other factors that suggest the likelihood of continued growth:
• The increase in the volume of terrorist activity has been matched by its geographic spread — a slow, long-term trend. The number of countries experiencing some sort of terrorist activity each year has gradually increased.
• A handful of nations — the United States, France, Israel, the United Kingdom, and Turkey — remain the favorite targets of terrorists and account for approximately half of all the victims, but the number of nations targeted by terrorists has also increased. In 1984, there were terrorist attacks directed against the citizens of 60 countries.
• Although it is difficult to monitor with any precision the appearance and disappearance of the many hundreds of groups that claim credit for terrorist actions — some of them are only fictitious banners — the level of international terrorist activity no longer appears to depend on a handful of groups. Despite the virtual destruction of some terrorist groups and the decline in operations by others, the total volume of terrorism grows.
• As international communications spread and as populations move or are pushed about — two features of the 1980s — we will probably see more local conflicts manifesting themselves at the international level through terrorist tactics.
Will Attacks Become More Severe?
Simply killing a lot of people has seldom been a terrorist objective. Terrorists want a lot of people watching, not a lot of people dead. Terrorists operate on the principle of the minimum force necessary. They find it unnecessary to kill many, as long as killing a few suffices for their purposes.
Statistics bear this out. Only 15%-20% of all terrorist incidents involve fatalities; and of those, two-thirds involve only one death. Less than 1% of the thousands of terrorist incidents that have occurred in the last two decades involved 10 or more fatalities, and incidents of mass murder are truly rare. This suggests that it is either very hard to kill large numbers of persons or it is very rarely tried.
Unfortunately, as we have seen in recent years, things are changing. Terrorist activity over the last 20 years has escalated in volume and in bloodshed. At the beginning of the 1970s, terrorists concentrated their attacks on property. In the 1980s, according to U.S. government statistics, half of all terrorist attacks have been directed against people. The number of incidents with fatalities and multiple fatalities has increased.
A more alarming trend in the 1980s has been the growing number of incidents of large-scale, indiscriminate violence: huge car bombs detonated on city streets, bombs planted aboard trains and airliners, in airline terminals, railroad stations, and hotel lobbies, all calculated to kill in quantity. Ten major international terrorist incidents have resulted in a total of more than 1,000 deaths in the last 15 years, but more than two-thirds of these have occurred in the last three years.
There are several explanations for the escalation:
• Like soldiers in a war, terrorists who have been in the field for many years have become jaded by the long struggle. Killing becomes easier.
• As terrorism has become more commonplace, the public too has become somewhat desensitized. Terrorists can no longer obtain the same amount of publicity using the same tactics they used 10 years ago, and they may feel compelled to escalate their violence in order to keep public attention or to recover coercive power lost as governments have become more resistant to their demands.
• Terrorists have become technically more proficient, enabling them to operate at a higher level of violence.
• The composition of some terrorist groups has changed as the fainthearted who have no stomach for indiscriminate killing drop out or are shoved aside by more ruthless elements.
• The religious aspect of current conflicts in the Middle East pushes terrorists toward mass murder. As we have seen throughout history, the presumed approval of God for the killing of pagans, heathens, or infidels can permit acts of great destruction and self-destruction.
• State sponsorship has provided terrorists with the resources and technical know-how to operate at a higher, more lethal level of violence.
Restraints Against Terrorism
At the same time, several factors work against escalation, such as self-imposed restraints and technical ceilings. Without resorting to more exotic weapons, terrorists are approaching limits to their violence. The deadliest terrorist incidents — huge bombs detonated in buildings, the bomb presumably detonated aboard an Air India jumbo jet that exploded over the Atlantic Ocean, a deliberately set fire in a crowded Teheran theater — each produced several hundred deaths, roughly equal to such accidental disasters as hotel fires, explosions, and airline crashes.
Death on a larger scale is seen only in the slaughter of great battIes or in natural disasters like earthquakes and floods. The most plausible scenarios involving chemical or biological weapons in a contained environment — a hotel, a convention, a banquet — would produce deaths in the hundreds. To get above that, terrorists would have to possess large quantities of deadly substances and solve problems of dispersal, or they would have to resort to nuclear weapons.
Another limiting factor is security. Protective measures taken in the wake of the huge car and truck bombings in the Middle East are reducing the vulnerability of the most obvious targets to this type of attack. More stringent security measures may be applied on a permanent basis to prevent a repeat of the Air India bombing. Of course, terrorists can obviate these by shifting their sights to other, still-vulnerable targets, but security measures force them to become even less discriminate.
On balance, it appears that incidents involving significant fatalities probably will become more common, with incidents resulting in hundreds of deaths remaining, for the foreseeable future, the outer limit of terrorist violence.
New Terrorist Tactics
Terrorists operate with a fairly limited repertoire. Six basic tactics have accounted for 95% of all terrorist incidents: bombings, assassinations, armed assaults, kidnappings, hijackings, and barricade and hostage incidents. Looking at it another way: Terrorists blow up things, kill people, or seize hostages. Every terrorist incident is merely a variation on these three activities.
I don’t think we will see much tactical innovation; there have been few changes over the years. Seizing embassies was a popular tactic in the 1970s. It declined as security measures made embassy takeovers more difficult, and as governments became more resistant to the demands of terrorists holding hostages and more willing to use force to end such episodes, thus increasing the hostage-takers’ risk of death or capture.
This is indicative of the kind of innovation we are likely to see. Terrorists innovate in an incremental way to solve specific problems created by security measures. If one tactic ceases to work, they abandon it in favor of another one, or merely shift their sights to another target. Since terrorists have virtually unlimited targets, they have little need for tactical innovation.
For example, how might terrorists respond to the new security measures aimed at protecting embassies against car bombs? Conceivably, they might resort to aerial suicide attacks, which are technically and physically more demanding. Or they might resort to standoff attacks — with mortars, rocket launchers, rocket-propelled grenades — the traditional response to strong defenses. Or they might simply detonate large bombs at other, still-vulnerable targets. Finally, there remains a potential for the use of portable precision-guided munitions, which terrorists already have employed on several occasions.
New Targets for Terrorists
The greatest advantage that terrorists have and will continue to have is a virtually unlimited range of targets. Terrorists can attack anything, anywhere, anytime, limited only by operational considerations: Terrorists usually do not attack defended targets; they seek soft targets. If one target or set of targets is well protected, terrorists merely shift their sights to other targets that are not so well protected.
Over the years, the range of targets attacked by terrorists has expanded enormously. They now include embassies, airlines, airline terminals, ticket offices, trains, railroad stations, subways, buses, power lines, electrical transformers, mailboxes, mosques, hotels, restaurants, schools, libraries, churches, temples, newspapers, journalists, professors, diplomats, businessmen, military officials, missionaries, priests, nuns, the Pope, men, women, and children.
With the exception of a couple of minor episodes, terrorists have not attacked nuclear reactors. Targets meant to cause disruption may be more appealing to armchair terrorists than to those who are active in today’s terrorist groups. Attacks on energy infrastructures or against computer systems, for example, have been done, but they are technically demanding and produce no immediate visible effects. There is no drama. No lives hang in the balance. There is no bang, no blood. They do not satisfy the hostility of the terrorists.
For the most part, terrorists have not operated at sea. There have been no attempts to take over offshore platforms. Prior to the hijack of the Achille Lauro, there had been a number of bombs planted aboard ships or mines planted on their hulls. There had been several ship hijackings and attempted hijackings suggesting that the idea of taking over a large vessel had crossed the terrorists’ minds.
The future targets of terrorism will be pretty much the same ones as today:
• Representatives of governments and symbols of nations notably diplomats and airlines.
• Representatives of economic systems — corporations and corporate executives.
• Symbols of policies and presence — military officials.
• Political or other leaders. In the past 15 years, terrorists have killed, or have tried to kill, or have been reported on their way to kill Lord Louis Mountbatten, Anwar Sadat, Pope John Paul II, Indira Gandhi, and Margaret Thatcher, among others.
Nuclear Terrorism
Will terrorists resort to weapons of mass destruction? Will they employ chemical or biological warfare? Will terrorists go nuclear?
Many people believe that nuclear terrorism of some sort — such as stolen nuclear weapons or a clandestinely fabricated nuclear explosive device to kill or threaten to kill large numbers of people — is likely and may be inevitable. I happen to think nuclear terrorism is neither imminent nor inevitable. Lesser terrorist acts are possible — the seizure or attempted sabotage of a nuclear reactor, for example or the dispersal of radioactive material, or an alarming nuclear hoax that may cause panic.
The question of nuclear terrorism involves an assessment of both capabilities and motivations. It is conceivable that someone outside of government who is familiar with the principles of nuclear weapons could design an atomic bomb. However, the ease with which people outside of government can build one, assuming they had somehow acquired the necessary nuclear material, has been greatly exaggerated. But let’s for a moment say they can. Would they want to? Terrorism has certainly escalated, but it is still a quantum jump from the kinds of things that terrorists do today to the realms of nuclear destruction. Why would terrorists take that jump?
Simply killing a lot of people is not an objective of terrorism. Terrorists could do more now, yet they don’t. Why? Beyond the technical constraints, there may be self-imposed constraints that derive from moral considerations or political calculations. Some terrorists may view indiscriminate violence as immoral. The terrorists’ enemy is the government, not the people. Also, terrorists pretend to be governments, and wanton murder might imperil the image.
There are political considerations as well: Terrorists fear alienating their perceived constituents. They fear provoking public revulsion. They fear unleashing government crackdowns that their groups might not survive. Certainly, in the face of a nuclear threat, the rules that now limit police authorities in most democracies would change.
Terrorists must maintain group cohesion. Attitudes toward violence vary not only from group to group but also within a group. Inevitably, there would be disagreements over mass murder, which could expose the operation and the group to betrayal.
Obviously, not all groups share the same operation code, and certain conditions or circumstances might erode these self-imposed constraints.
What about chemical or biological weapons, which are technically less demanding? Although there have been isolated incidents, neither chemical nor biological warfare seems to fit the pattern of most terrorist attacks. These attacks are generally intended to produce immediate dramatic effects.
Finally, the terrorists retain control. That is quite different from initiating an event that offers no explosion but instead produces indiscriminate deaths and lingering illness, an event over which the terrorists who set it in motion would have little control. For the near-term future — say, the next five years — we are more likely to see threats of chemical or biological contamination made by authentic lunatics or criminal extortionists.
Over the long-term future — the next 10 to 15 years — my concern is that chemical weaponry will be acquired by unstable, dangerous countries and used in warfare — such as the Iran-Iraq War. If chemical warfare becomes more commonplace, particularly in a region like the Middle East, we cannot dismiss its potential use by terrorists. The same is true of nuclear weapons, but probably over a longer time period.
Terrorism and Future Wars
The current trend toward state sponsorship of terrorism will probably continue. Limited conventional war, classic rural guerrilla war, and international terrorism will coexist and may appear simultaneously. The Iranian revolution and its spread to Lebanon, which has involved the effective use of international terrorism as an instrument of policy, may provide a model for other Third World revolutions and revolutionary states, just as the Cuban model inspired a generation of imitators in Latin America. If it does, we are in for a lot of trouble.
We also may see international terrorism emerge as a new kind of global guerrilla warfare in which terrorist groups sally forth from the political jungles of the Third World to carry out highly publicized hit-and-run attacks — militarily insignificant but politically of great consequence — avoiding confrontations where they might run into well-equipped, well-trained, specialized anti-terrorist forces.
Terrorists now avoid seizing embassies in Western capitals. They hijack airliners, keep them on the move to evade any rescue attempt, and retreat with their hostages to sanctuaries like Teheran or Beirut. The absence of government, as in Lebanon, or the presence of a government sympathetic to the terrorist’s cause, means these sanctuaries lie beyond the reach of the world regime of treaty and law.
Future Security
The «privatization» of violence has been matched by the «privatization» of security, as illustrated by the tremendous growth of private-sector security expenditures. In the United States, a total of $21 billion is now spent annually for security services and hardware (compared with $14 billion spent annually on all police). The figure will reach $50 to $60 billion a year by the end of the century. Private security corporations will grow to meet the demand.
We will see the further proliferation of inner perimeters, the rings of security that now surround airline terminals, government buildings, and, increasingly, corporate offices. From this last development, however, emerges a crude counter-terrorist strategy. By protecting the most obvious symbols — terrorists’ preferred targets — this security will force terrorists to become less discriminate in their attacks. That will create greater public outrage, which governments can exploit to obtain domestic support and international cooperation to crush the terrorists.
In sum:
• Terrorism will certainly persist.
• It will probably increase.
• Large-scale incidents will become more common.
• Terrorism probably won’t enter the mind-boggling world of high technology or mass destruction.
• In terms of weapons and tactics, terrorism will be for the foreseeable future a continuation of the past.
• States will continue to exploit terrorism — to use it for their own purposes. We may enter a protracted worldwide guerrilla war.
• Terrorists will create crises, forcing governments and corporations to divert more and more resources toward combating them.
About the Author
Brian Michael Jenkins is senior advisor to the president of the RAND Corporation. he also served as a member of the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security, 1996-97 and as an advisor to the National Commission on Terrorism, 2000.
(This article is reprinted from the July-August 1987 issue of THE FUTURIST.)

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